№ 2

Barry Guy’s New Orchestra

Oort-Entropy

Intakt Records

Archi­tec­ture has always been an inex­haustible point of ref­er­ence for sort­ing out Barry Guy’s music. It’s a nat­ural place to start, espe­cially if you’re star­ing into the sprawl­ing story of his Lon­don Jazz Com­posers Orches­tra, the sem­i­nal group which was put on hold in 1998 after nearly 30 years together. Guy, remem­ber, once worked in an architect’s office, and he often describes the phys­i­cal act of com­pos­ing as a drafts­man might. Cer­tainly the LJCO’s eight albums, from Ode (1972) to Dou­ble Trou­ble Two (1995), with their vault­ing struc­tures and vast pas­sage­ways of line and color, sug­gest a par­tic­u­lar kind of per­ma­nence, built, as they are, on foun­da­tions that flash between things set down in ink and those engi­neered on the spot.

Yet the Barry Guy New Orches­tra, his more com­pact and equally ambi­tious ensem­ble formed five years ago, seems to ask of us some­thing dif­fer­ent. Archi­tec­tural metaphors still work. Here, how­ever, a great series of dialec­ti­cal strings give this project a won­der­ful new energy, and a fresh set of fig­u­ra­tive pos­si­bil­i­ties. The ongo­ing pull between pre­de­ter­mined and impro­vised mate­r­ial con­tin­ues, as it has for much of Guy’s career. But now the the­matic pairs have a prac­ti­cally irre­sistible pull; a sense of ten­sion and release acts as kind of shift­ing and nat­ural force of grav­ity — the tug between order and clut­ter, ten­der­ness and brute strength, lyri­cism and dis­cord. Often, extra­mu­si­cal motives come to mind. Movies. Paint­ings. Visual art that swirls inside, where the over­ar­ch­ing nar­ra­tive is embod­ied by com­plex com­bi­na­tions of color, thought and emo­tion. A rough guide? Think of Willem de Koon­ing or Jack­son Pol­lock, Mar­tin Scors­ese or David Mamet, each a mas­ter of design, no mat­ter how oblique or fraught with angles and rapid-fire expression.

How­ever you might imag­ine this project, the BGNO is oper­at­ing in a world well beyond its more pro­saic roots: the impos­si­ble eco­nom­ics of its pre­de­ces­sor. After the LJCO’s last con­cert, Intakt’s Patrik Lan­dolt sug­gested some­thing more man­age­able — 10 musi­cians, per­haps, instead of 17. Guy soon real­ized he had a ready­made within the many strands of his musi­cal life: the set of inter­con­nected cham­ber groups he’d been work­ing with for years. This wouldn’t be some makeshift meet­ing between LJCO events.

Jump to Oort-Entropy where you’ll find this aes­thetic land­scape two steps fur­ther along from the group’s 2001 debut, Inscape-Tableaux. Guy’s trade­mark orches­tral meth­ods are here — shrill, tutti walls, streams of cir­cu­lar activ­ity, grave dra­matic ges­tures buried in plush reeds and brass — woven into hand­fuls of instant con­fig­u­ra­tions. The voices, the orga­ni­za­tion and the com­po­si­tions them­selves all hold a huge mir­ror to an already uncov­ered aspect of Guy’s musi­cal mind: his cham­ber life. Trios in par­tic­u­lar act as a kind of cen­tral axis — the sax­o­phone groups, with Evan Parker and Paul Lyt­ton, and with Mats Gustafs­son and Ray­mond Strid, and the piano trio with Lyt­ton and Mar­i­lyn Crispell.

Indeed, Oort-Entropy is in many ways a homage to Crispell. The Amer­i­can pianist recently put a cap on trav­el­ing, drop­ping out of the BGNO in 2004. But she left rec­om­mend­ing the Spaniard, Agustí Fer­nán­dez, a nat­ural for her chair, some­one whose approach neatly fol­lows a line of pianists Guy admires — Crispell, Irène Schweizer, Alexan­der von Schlip­pen­bach — musi­cians who might tear through a large ensem­ble and still end up quite hap­pily alone cen­ter stage.

But Fernández’s pres­ence doesn’t dimin­ish Crispell’s enor­mous impres­sion on this new album. Early on Guy built a bridge between the BGNO’s reper­toire and the trio’s two discs, Ithaca (2004) and Odyssey (2002), hit­ting on a tone that works in minia­ture — the discs are, to my mind, high-water marks in recent trio music — and lifts beau­ti­fully onto a larger can­vas. “Odyssey,” the title-piece, was woven into Inscape, while three com­po­si­tions from Ithaca appear on Oort. “Zig Zag” briefly passes near the end of Part III, a slow, wail­ing col­lec­tive stream, while “Third Shard” acts as a coda to Part II, with Gustafs­son (on bari­tone sax) mak­ing Crispell’s ethe­real effects his own, float­ing in and over Guy’s arco haze.

But at the heart of Oort-Entropy — the sec­ond part, the spine, I would sug­gest — lies “Void (for Doris),” a clear, haunt­ing line borne by a ring­ing pedal tone, somber back­grounds and the lovely melan­choly of Per Åke Holmlander’s tuba. What began in trio becomes a micro­cosm for Guy’s 10-piece vision.

Here, “Void” emerges out of a gor­geous Parker-Guy pref­ace, before spilling into another duo improv, this time between Holm­lan­der and trum­peter Herb Robert­son. Oth­ers join as the Swedish trio emerges, Gustafs­son, Guy and drum­mer Ray­mond Strid rip­ping into a ter­rific out­pour­ing of energy, Robert­son still fly­ing about on top. A short col­lec­tive segue alludes to the melody, leav­ing Fer­nán­dez alone as he drafts his own soli­tary answer to the line.

Many of Oort’s com­bi­na­tions actu­ally find their roots in the group’s first per­for­mances in Dublin in 2000. Ever since, Guy has cre­ated com­plex, spaghetti-like dia­grams, lists in which he con­nects the dots: who’s played with whom? what works? what doesn’t? While they may only meet up three or four times a year Guy car­ries all these lit­tle aural sce­nar­ios around in his head. He might envi­sion a sin­gle voice against a con­struct, a par­tic­u­lar wash of sound or a clear, sharply defined gesture.

Guy isn’t a big cin­ema buff, but he once admit­ted to me a fas­ci­na­tion with a director’s meth­ods. “It’s always inter­est­ing the way films have the abil­ity to show the big­ger vista,” he said early on in the BGNO’s life. “Then they pan and focus on one spe­cific detail: it could be an eye, or it could be a hand or it could be a small ges­ture.” Here, he’s explor­ing how he might focus sound, chan­nel­ing every­one into a par­tic­u­lar way of lis­ten­ing, clear­ing away pock­ets for a sin­gle voice (Fer­nán­dez through­out) or two (the pref­aces, where he joins Hans Koch, Parker and Gustafs­son) or an assort­ment of larger units.

On Oort-Entropy events are planned in ways not unfa­mil­iar to an actor set­ting up an impro­vi­sa­tion. Scores and spon­ta­neous cre­ations live seam­lessly side by side. Short vignettes are played out, break­away ideas appear, indi­vid­u­als inter­rupt and col­lec­tive visions turn into some­thing entirely new. In the Barry Guy New Orches­tra an arch­i­pel­ago of com­bos are plot­ted in advance and trans­formed into a bril­liant kind of demo­c­ra­tic art. The final results are here for all to see: some­thing pro­found, some­thing last­ing, a shim­mer­ing musi­cal imprint cre­ated by 10 supe­rior voices.